As Suhana Khan, Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter, and Khushi Kapoor, the daughter of producer Boney Kapoor, step into Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies, the opening number ‘Sunoh’ warmly embraces their entry. Interestingly, the track audaciously echoes their names, ‘suhani’ and ‘khushi.’ The credit for this luminous idea remains uncertain—did veteran lyricist Javed Akhtar conceive it, or was it the work of co-songwriter Dot? Regardless, it sends an unintended message, suggesting that these newcomers are already wielding influence despite just embarking on their cinematic journey.
The news of Akhtar directing a live-action Indian adaptation of Archie Comics was a pleasant surprise. Those who grew up in the 80s and 90s, frequenting railway station bookstalls, would be familiar with the original comics’ character types and premise. For others, five decades of Hindi romantic cinema provide a reference point. From Bobby to Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Bollywood has consistently borrowed from the Archie template and mood board. This influence persists into the present, evident in films like the Student of the Year series and the visual design of Rohit Shetty’s hill station comedies.
However, this familiarity poses a challenge for Akhtar and co-writers Reema Kagti and Ayesha Devitre Dhillon. Acknowledging the audience’s familiarity with the Archie setup, they aim for a sophisticated approach. Yet, the collaboration with Netflix, which already features Riverdale, prompts the need for a distinct Indian Archie. Akhtar attempts to strike a balance but falls short, resulting in a film that feels nostalgic, idealistic, and simplistic.
The Archies adaptation envisions a picturesque hill station in 1960s India, introduced through the eyes of 17-year-old Archie Andrews (Agastya Nanda), the frontman of a band. His plain-Jane neighbor, Betty Cooper (Khushi Kapoor), harbors a crush on him. As Archie plans to start college in London, his ex, Veronica Lodge (Suhana Khan), returns from there. The plot revolves around Veronica’s father, Hiram (Alyy Khan), and his plans to redevelop the town, particularly Green Park. Set against the backdrop of Nehru’s death in 1964, capitalist motives come into play.
The film introduces other key characters like Reggie, Jughead, Ethel, Dilton, Moose, and Midge. Amidst school, part-time jobs, and the ever-shifting dynamics of Archie-Ronnie-Betty’s romance, these characters navigate the journey to adulthood and unite to save Green Park. Akhtar weaves the narrative with peppy musical numbers, adopting the American approach of dialogue and scenarios seamlessly merging into song.
While some moments, like Archie and Betty cycling to Green Park at dusk, stand out, others, like Jughead being interrogated with enticing food, bring humor late into the story. The writers transplant the tale to the experiences of the Anglo-Indian community in the 1960s, incorporating diverse accents, hairstyles, and personal histories.
The cast, including standout performances by Vedang Raina, Suhana Khan, and Khushi Kapoor, adds charm to the film. Kapoor’s portrayal of Betty is particularly noteworthy for its sad yet genuine expression. However, despite being a visually appealing and heartwarming watch, The Archies feels like a letdown compared to Akhtar’s previous work, such as the dynamic Gully Boy. The film’s celebration of a bygone socialist-idealist ethos is hindered by its overly polished design, lacking the rawness that characterized Akhtar’s earlier works. Despite its shortcomings, The Archies may find a place as a cozy Christmas watch, leaving room for hope that Zoya Akhtar’s future projects will bring more surprises.
The Archies is currently streaming on Netflix